Thursday, February 26, 2009

R.I.P. Philip Jose Farmer

I'll never forget my literary introduction to the late, great Philip Jose Farmer.

It was summer and I was a fifteen year old fan of Doc Savage, through the Bama-adorned Bantam paperback series. I probably had over forty Docs at that time, reading them all from cover to cover, and always on the lookout for the next batch to show up in the neighborhood drugstore. My friend Gary, who had, in fact, turned me on to the Man of Bronze to begin with, had shown up on my doorstep seemingly close to bursting with excitement. I immediately noticed that he was clutching a new book.

"Doc Savage was real!" he blurted out.

"What the hell are you talking about?" teenagers cursed to impress, then as now.

He shoved the book in my face. Doc Savage, His Apocalyptic Life by Philip Jose Farmer. I'll be superamalgamated. Could it be true?

I spent a fretful few days after that searching for my own copy, ultimately succeeding. Immediately I devoured the book, turning the pages with revered fascination. Was this on the level? Bit by bit it began to dawn on me that the author was playing, what the serious Sherlockians call, "the game", treating a fictional character as if he'd really lived. Scholars of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Great Detective had been ingeniously doing the same thing for decades.

However, what Phil Farmer did was even more remarkable. He didn't stop at Doc Savage, but included Tarzan, The Shadow, The Spider, James Bond, Fu Manchu--creating a complex Family Tree of virtually every imaginative character in 19th and 20th century fiction and beyond, focusing particularly on the pulp heroes.

It was pure genius.

No one, I think, loved the pulps more than Phil. As a highly acclaimed, award-winning giant in the field of science fiction, having already won over millions of loyal readers, Phil also turned the spotlight on the pulps, legitimizing and revitalizing an almost forgotten adventurous era.

Not only did Phil Farmer invite us into his own brilliant fiction, he encouraged us to seek out the books of other writers. I might never have read Edgar Rice Burroughs, Walter Gibson, Norvell Page, Sax Rohmer, and so many others, without the lure of Phil's enthusiastic excitement.

Without Phil's influence, I very much doubt I would have ever written my own Sherlock Holmes tales, or my new adventures of The Avenger, The Phantom, and The Spider. He showed me the way. Phil had such affection for these characters that he couldn't help but be contagious to others.

When I learned that Philip Jose Farmer had passed away, at age 91, I immediately felt the lose as if I'd truly known him. I wish we had met.

He made my world a better place.


  1. Martin, you nailed it. Thank you for a fantastic tribute. Phil would have loved it.

  2. Beautifully put, Martin. I could not agree more.